Activities to Successfully Engage Persons with Dementia

dementia careAccording to a 2019 Alzheimer’s Association report, an estimated 5.8 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease.

This sad and startling statistic means many of us know someone who has this terrible illness and are all too familiar with the devastating effects of dementia.

By spending time with loved ones suffering with this condition, we can make a positive and impactful difference in their quality of life. Doing so, however, frequently proves challenging. This is because cognitive decline often impairs our ability to “connect” satisfactorily with a person experiencing dementia, and well-intentioned visits can end up feeling meaningless.

Activities are a great way to overcome this problem and effectively support a friend or family member with dementia. Research indicates activities can actually decrease a dementia patient’s feelings of isolation and loneliness, and bolster the individual’s feelings of success and achievement.

Experts advise participating in short and simple activities based upon the patients’ abilities and strengths and centered on their individual interests. The overriding concept is to leverage their existing physical and cognitive skill level to successfully complete an activity that they find personally appealing and can accomplish with ease.

Here are a few activity ideas to consider.

Bake something delicious.

Food preparation can induce fond memories by stimulating the senses. Choose a simple recipe — a boxed cake mix is perfect — and make it easy by having all ingredients and baking tools set out beforehand. Take your time and focus on the process, as well as all the associated tastes and smells that accompany baking.

Prepare a ‘memory box.’

First select a theme that relates to the person with dementia — interests, a past hobby or former career. Then find an appropriate holding container (bag or box) to fill with theme-associated items.

For a gentleman who used to work in construction, for example, you might stock a tool box with drill bits, screwdrivers and work gloves. Photos always make an excellent addition. Bring the “memory box” with you when you visit your loved one and explore it together to induce recollections of days gone by.

Plant a garden pot.

This activity is a simple way to create a sense of purpose for a person experiencing dementia and is a fantastic way to spend some creative time outdoors, enjoying fresh air and sunshine.

Select a large potting container that can hold three to five 5 plants of varying colors and shapes. Make it simple by carefully preparing the gardening space on a table for easy access, with all needed items and tools ready for planting. Enjoy each step you take together to create the garden pot, noticing the scent, sight and feel of each item you use to build it.

Sort it out.

This super-easy, Montessori-inspired activity can instill a sense of usefulness and accomplishment for your loved one. Sort coins by type. Sort fabric swatches by color. Sort Legos by size. Sort laundry by clothing item. It really doesn’t matter what you sort, as long as it is something your friend or family member can complete effectively.

Enjoy some tunes.

Everyone knows that music from our past can tap deep memories. It can even bring dementia patients “back to life,” allowing them to feel more like themselves again.

Create a personalized music playlist of the person’s favorite songs and enjoy some quality listening time together. Earn extra points for encouraging your loved one to sing along, tap toes or sway to the beat.

Should your friend or family member resist participating in an activity you bring along on a visit, don’t get too discouraged. Just take a break, make adjustments (if you think that will be helpful) and maybe try again next time.

No matter what, remember that when you are supporting a person experiencing dementia, it is less important that your activity succeeds than it is that you cared enough about your loved one to spend meaningful time with together.